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Tips For First Time Fence Builders

Updated March 15, 2021

Building a fence can sound simple. The process can be broken down into a rather approachable set of clearly defined steps. However, it is only once you are in it that you see all the complexity. The article that follows attempts to save you some headaches by making you aware of a few potential curveballs you may encounter down the road.

Fence Posts

The most back breaking part of building a fence is, by far, setting the posts. Posts should be in the ground no less than three feet. Posts that have gates attached to them should be dug even deeper to ensure gates never shift and stop closing. The posts are the single most important part of the fence. They need to be strong, level and straight.


Heaving is when the fence post slowly pops out of the ground. It is a slow process that usually takes place during a spring melt in colder climates. Over the course of a season a post can move serial inches to the point where it is very noticeable that the fence is no longer level. Heaving, occurs when the ground melts and thaws under the bottom of a post. This is why it is so important that post be set below the frost line. In the coldest regions in North America the frost line is never more than three feet below the surface. In warmer climates the frost line is much shallower.

Line locate

A line locate is when a utilities company marks the underground electricity, gas and telecommunication lines that run under the surface of your property. In this case the "line" is a pipe or wire. The lines will get marked either with spray paint or flags. It is important to get a line locate because hitting a line while digging fence posts can result in serious injuries or large bills to repair the damage. Line locates are free in most cities.


If your fence posts are no good, the sections you attach to them are worthless. Additionally, digging the kind of narrow and deep hole you need for post requires specialised tools. For these reasons a lot of homeowners hire a professional to set the posts even if they plan to build the rest of the fence.

Don't burn your old fenceIf you demolish an old fence before you start building a new fence you might be wondering what to do with all the old material. Don't use it as fire wood. It could be treated material, which means it is full of chemicals that you don't want to be breathing in. Even if it doesn't look like like treated material, the fence could have faded over the years but the chemicals are still there.


One thing to keep in mind is that you will need to order more material than you actually require. The reason is because not all the boards the supplier will send you will be usable and, no matter how good you are, you might waste a board on a missed measurement or a missed cut. If you don't over order you might get stuck having to use a board in the fence that is in poor condition. Otherwise you will end up having to make a trip back to the store right as you are trying to finish up your fence. You are better off to order additional material and return any extras you have at the end of the job. All major reno stores accept returns.

Calculate Material List

Use this free calculator tool to get a list of all the material you will need and an estimated cost.

Additional costs

When you are building a fence yourself it is important to remember that the material itself is not the only cost you will incur during the process. Here are examples of a few situation that may cause the cost of your fence project to be higher than expected.

  • You will have to pay if you are taking an existing fence to the dump.

  • There is usually an extra charge to have material you order delivered

  • Attaching your fence to other structures often requires additional materials

Additional work

Here are examples of a few situations that may cause your fencing project to be more work than expected.

  • Trees mean roots and roots make digging fence posts much more difficult

  • If there are underground utilities you will have to dig fence posts by hand to be safe

  • Uneven land means filling in gaps under the fence if your intent is to keep pets in the yard

  • You have to carry the material from where it can be delivered to where the fence is being built

  • You have to get dirt from where post holes are being dug to a truck if you plan to take it away

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